A Solution to the War in the Middle East
by John Stahl
The problem in the Middle East has been going on for 1000 years, ever since the first Crusades. The situation there is a “real” problem. Some problems are not real. Some problems have a simple solution – some aggressor is clearly wrong, so the “solution” is to remove that aggressor and restore justice and freedom. Even if this is not easy to do, at least the problem might be clear. However, in the case of the conflict between the Moslems and the Jews, the conflict goes back and back and back. It is never useful to say that these people or those people are clearly wrong to do what they do. The problem is that they are acting in response to what those people or these people have been doing before. But you can carry the problem back and back and back, like the Hatfields and McCoys. After a while, the feud is so deeply ingrained on both sides, that it would seem that no possible resolution could ever be possible.
In the case of the present conflict, there really isn’t much basis to negotiate between the two positions. The Moslems want to force all of the Jews into the Mediterranean Sea, and the Jews want to kill every Moslem, to the last man, woman, and child, in much the same way that the American colonists decided to deal with the “Indians” who happened to be there first. These are their clear intentions, hardly even pretended otherwise (have the Israelis thought of donating blankets to the Palestinians, loaded with smallpox virus?). So what could anyone possibly propose, in order to resolve this conflict?
Well, I actually have a proposal, but no one is going to like it. But that, of course, is inevitable when you have two opposed camps who are so far apart in their attitudes as the Moslems and the Jews. What a thankless task to even propose any solutions! If no one is going to like any of my ideas, why don’t I just cultivate my fragrant roses, and forget about that conflict? I don’t live anywhere close to that region, and I have no desire to go back there (I have been to Israel, and I have been to many Moslem countries). However, I do live on the earth, and so the problem cannot be ignored. The earth is too small these days. The days when a Great Wall of China could be built to keep out the hordes of barbarians (or the Ugly American), are long gone. Any solution to the problems of the world must have a global consideration or the solution is worthless. If Iran and Israel have a nuclear confrontation (for example), where does that leave life on earth?
So my first premise is that any solution is better than no solution. This seems like a self-evident proposition, but to people in the heat of battle, it apparently is not so evident. Whenever any two people have a fight on their hands such that each will fight to the death before giving in, it is clear that any solution at all, even a bad one for one side or the other, is better than nothing, since at least it allows life to go on!
This is contrary to human nature. It is human nature to go on fighting “to the death” before accepting the short end of any deal. This is clearly folly, at least to my eyes. I remember when the deal was struck between Egypt and Israel. At the time everyone on both sides cried out in anger at the deal, yet the deal was made and accepted, and now there is no war on that front. For better or worse, a deal was made, and now there is at least one border where there is no war going on! The benefits of this are finally clear to both sides. Now, I am sure that neither side would wish to revert to the previous situation. A settlement has been reached, and, at least as far as that portion of the conflict is concerned, everyone can return to their roses or their rice fields.
In the same way, I am trying to find a solution which can work – some solution by which both the Israelis and the Palestinians can go on living. When you can spend your resources cultivating your fields instead of building weapons and waging war, you can increase your prosperity rapidly. Any solution that will allow for an end to hostilities, and allow the peace to be retained with only moderate peace-keeping forces, will be a great boon to the people of the region, on both sides of the conflict.
The problem is that the claims to that land go so far back that it is just no longer feasible to establish “rightful ownership.” The Palestinians claim recent history; the Israelis claim biblical history. As I look upon those claims, I find myself considering that biblical history just goes too far back to provide a credible basis on which to base a claim to the land. Status quo ante bellum is one thing; trying to revert to a political reality that is out of date by 2000 years seems a bit optimistic. On the other hand, the Jews are there, and not planning to leave any time soon. I consider that the seizure of the land is similar to when a government (by which we refer to a power stronger than you are that has a lot more guns than you have) seizes land by “eminent domain.” Basically, they say to the holders of the land, that they want it, so you have to move; so sorry. In this case, when they do this, at least they are constrained by custom to offer some compensation for taking the land.
So there is my solution. If the Israelis have taken the land, they must pay compensation. Now, of course, the Palestinians are going to say that they do not want “compensation” – they want their land back. However, it is evident that that solution is not liable to happen by means of any foreseeable continuations of this conflict. Nothing that the Palestinians can do is likely to result in the restoration of their lands. Notice that I am not trying to make any arbitration on the basis of “justice.” It has been a long, long time since I expected anything in the world to happen in accordance with “justice.” Politics is a business of pragmatic solutions to the real problems of the world, and no one’s platitudes are going to be of any use.
So, while no one is going to like this solution, at least it can provide a way in which everyone involved can go on living. The way it is now, the only advice the Israelis have for the Palestinians is for them to lay down and die. They should not be surprised, therefore, that when the Palestinians do this they at least want to take as many Israelis with them when they go (the suicide bombers). It is not practical for the Israelis to expect the Palestinians to accept defeat and simply go away. Not only do they have no place to go, but they don’t have any shoes.
If the displaced Palestinians are given a substantial sum of cash money to renounce their claims upon the land, they will not be penniless refugees living in tent camps, but will be welcomed anywhere. I think this is a serious proposal. I remember thinking during the war in Viet Nam that the American approach was all wrong. Instead of sending in armies of soldiers to destroy the country, they should have sent in some carnival hucksters in Hawaiian shirts, with carpet bags full of cash money.
“Hello, Johnny! Good day to you. And how are the wife and kids? Cigar? Fresh from Havana! – Well, I’m here representing the United States government, and we think your support of the communist regime is really foolish. I am authorized to offer you and your family $5,000 in cash to support our proposals for a capitalist regime here – oops, I mean a “democratic government.” I’ll be setting up an office in town, so send your friends over – same deal for everyone who agrees to sign up. Oh, and we have allocated a million dollars for a new hospital here, and another million for schools.”
Give me about fifty slick carpet baggers and about 10% of the budget for the war in Vietnam, and I would undertake to end the war to everyone’s satisfaction! The same could have been done in Iraq, also, only now the cost would have to be adjusted upwards. Back in the old days, $5,000 per person might have swung it, but now I’m afraid it will cost so much more that the proposal breaks down. No, nothing will work now except for an immediate and unconditional withdrawal. The country has already been destroyed, and there is little hope at all that anyone in the world will ever again support the American agenda, but if the Americans admit their mistake and withdraw their troops (say, during the next administration, after George W. Bush finally takes his bow and his curtain falls), pay massive reparations to the Iraqi people, and stay out of countries where their presence is not wanted, then, after a few generations, the bad smell may begin to dissipate. Of course, when the effects of all the depleted uranium begin to be seen clearly, it may significantly retard the rehabilitation of the United States’ reputation.
So, what is the specific proposal to the situation in the Middle East? I would say, set up a panel of arbitration and invite Palestinians to bring complaints for review. This could be set up like an ordinary court, with attorneys for both sides representing their clients – attorneys for the Palestinians (including a Palestinian “Public Defender” for the indigent), and attorneys representing the State of Israel, against which the judgments will be made. Jews could likewise make claims against the Palestinians, and cross judgments might be made. A final settlement would include a minimum sum to which all Palestinians are entitled, every man, woman, and child, with additional specific judgments as decreed by the court of arbitration.
Now why would the State of Israel accept any such terms? Is all this just a pipe dream, or what? I think that if it were understood as a final solution to this endless struggle, it could be understood as worth the money! Even if the final settlement runs into many millions, even billions of dollars, this could be seen as a cheap price to pay for a peaceful end to the conflict. If a settlement could be reached that would allow the Palestinians to accept the solution, and retire to within the borders left to them (obviously, any real solution will be far more complex than the broad outlines suggested here – some land would be set aside for a Palestinian State, for example) or find a new home and a new life, with the help of their compensation package somewhere outside the borders of the disputed territories, then everyone could return to their fields or their factories, and life could go on.
The Palestinians may prefer to have their land back than any amount of money, and the Jews may be very reluctant to pay out enormous sums of money to people they consider to be their enemy, but if this solution leads to peace, then everyone benefits. Within a generation or two, everyone involved would be far better off than they could possibly be if the status quo were to continue for all that time.
It might take ten years to work out all the details of such a settlement, but if the intervening ten years were spent in court rooms instead of battlefields, that is already an immense improvement.
I consider myself completely impartial in this conflict – I have no reason to favor either side, but I think that I would welcome such a resolution regardless of which side of the conflict I were on. The goal of peace at last would be worth any sacrifice – giving up their claim to the land on the part of the Palestinians, or agreeing to a very substantial payment of compensation by the Israelis, which might be the equivalent of their war budget for many years into the future. However, once the debt were paid off, then there could finally be a gradual restoration of prosperity to the whole region.
And, best of all, everyone could go on living.
The Evanescent Press